Review published on April 17, 2017.
This is apparently the first biography in English of Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany and a truly extraordinary woman. From her early life as a daughter of a politically dissident pastor in East Germany under Soviet control, she chose an education that led to an advanced career in science, thereby largely avoiding political difficulties in a totalitarian state – displaying in retrospect both serious intelligence and something more too. But more extraordinary still, Merkel emerged from the collapse of the Soviet Union and the re-unification of Germany to become a leading politician seemingly from nowhere. Within a year she was a cabinet minister, starting the climb that led to her being elected the youngest Chancellor and thereby the most powerful woman in the world.
In this biography, dense in facts, we are presented with that evolution. Merkel is immensely private and so this is not a “touchy feely” text, but rather an exploration of her early life and her subsequent climb against the political background in both the Eastern Bloc and then the wider world. Her life has mirrored the post second world war re-structuring of both Germany and Europe that continues to this day. To misquote, she is “living in interesting times”.
It is told from a distinctively German perspective, not least as her ability to advance through the tortuous party politics of that country is essential to achieving the highest levels of power. The author occasionally explores the character and skills he thinks she has displayed to “outplay” the old establishment figures. Skills that she is then using as a leader of the Western world as the economic crisis and the unravelling of the Middle East play out, with their wider consequences. But whatever the title of the book, the central focus is the wider background not the person.
So it should be said that this is not a light read, but for those who have an interest in modern history and indeed one in current politics (Brexit just slides into a late chapter), it is both a deeply informative and compelling read. For the non-professional historian it pulls together, deepens, and puts in context, knowledge that will have been acquired through news, reading and chat over the years. And that at a time of deepening political instability in Europe and the wider world.
Due to the depth and range of coverage, this is unlikely to be a book that will appeal to most book groups, but if you are interested in history or politics – or indeed a truly exceptional woman achieving serious power against extreme odds – it is definitely to be recommended.
Hilary White 5/4
Angela Merkel: Europe’s Most Influential Leader by Matthew Qvortrup
Gerald Duckworth & Co Ltd 9780715651827 pbk Mar 2017
WWAR: Our Voices take the load off the editorial team this issue